The Pine River Oil Spill

by G. Leona Green, Hillspring Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility, Dawson Creek BC

The Pine River, born in the Rocky Mountains in the Pine Pass, meanders for many kilometres through still and peaceful valleys, deep canyons and stands of ancient timber. It finally spills into the "Mighty Peace" at Taylor Flats. The Pine is a fast flowing, gravel bottom river with many backwaters and muskegs. A few farms and ranches scattered along her way and the town of Chetwynd depend on her for life-giving waters.

Grayling, Rocky Mountain whites, Bull trout, Dolly Varden and Rainbow trout are just some of the fish who thrived in her waters. Moose, deer, elk, black and grizzly bears, martin, mink are some of the many animals that lived there also. The beavers had numerous ponds along her as well. Her valley hosted songbirds of every imaginable species, waterfowl by the hundreds and under every one of her many bridges, swallows built their little mud nests.

I know this river well. I lived on her banks for many years and raised all my children there. I have hiked and ridden horseback her entire length. I have listened to the booming echo of summer thunder in her canyons and have watched in awe at the mighty power of ice flows in spring breakup. I have lain in bed and heard the booming of the ice when the mercury hit forty below. I have waded in her cool waters in the mid July heat. Yes I know this river well.

On August 1st, 2000, a forty year old crude oil pipeline, belonging to Pembina Pipeline, ruptured and spilled one million litres of light crude oil into the river. Crews rushed to contain the spill but in my opinion were not expecting what they were up against. The boom that they put out to contain the oil bounced in the fast flowing stream and the oil went merrily on its way over and under the booms. The waves washed the oil up on the banks, where it stayed until high water after the recent heavy rains washed it back into the river.

The "powers that be" would allow no one on the river to rescue any wildlife until four days after the spill. By that time it was too late for any kind of meaningful rescue. They then allowed persons in there for three days to collect dead fish, (of which about 3000 were collected). At my facility, I received only one Golden eagle which was subsequently released after treatment and one Hooded Merganser which was too far gone to save. I understand one beaver kit was saved by the Chetwynd vets.

My son, on his last trip to the Pine just a few short days ago, said that it is as silent as a tomb along there now, no birds, not even any insects. There is no animal life at all. On one of his previous trips, he walked the banks for several kilometres and he said one could smell the rank odour of rotting animal flesh all along.

The town of Chetwynd is hauling water by truck from the Sukunka River, twenty kilometres away. After freeze up this will not work, so they are drilling into the Jackfish aquafer in hopes of finding a long term supply of water. The river will be polluted for some years to come according to all sources.

After the spill I saw two persons on TV from the regional Ministry of Environment, Pollution Prevention and Waste Management Branch and they just smiled quietly and said "These things happen," as if it were nothing.

Here in the northeast, "these things" are happening more frequently and will continue to do so as long as our MOE takes this attitude. This oil spill has changed the lives of many people who lived along the river. To me and my family it is a grave and personal loss. I wonder as I sit here reflecting on my life there, will I live long enough to see the river and the wildlife restored to what it once was?

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[From WS October/November 2000]

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